We don’t need no stinkin’ Transcendental Masturbation!
I wrote this little essay in response to someone online asking about Robert Anton Wilson, “Did he even have any ideas of his own?”
RAW was a very cool and friendly brilliant guy, but he didn’t want to be a guru. That’s all the more reason, ironically, why people revere the guy. Aside from his fiction, which you either like or not depending on your own subjective preferences, most people think he was a rather gifted wordsmith. What he did with the words, I suspect, is the reason for the interest in his writings, as much if not more than the poetry of his writing. Yes, he was encyclopedic in his explorations of subjects, and he was humble enough (and helpful enough) to pretty much always show where ideas originated. Did he come up with original concepts himself? Some clever wordplay led to iconic characters, memorable scenes and lasting memes. I think a major part of what people love about the guy, are those lasting memes. That’s not a small thing, largely, I suspect, because he brought together all of these bizarre and astounding subjects and ideas with a framework of idealistic progressive liberal thought. Think of him as a kar-mechanic. He took all of these cool parts and put them together to give us a vehicle that we can drive around in. It’s a very cool vehicle. We have to make adjustments to it over time, but RAW advised us to do just that.
There was a reason George Carlin said, “I have learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than I have from any other source.” He was talking about the way RAW introduced him to a set of ideas. No minor achievement.
Honestly, people who love his writings love his writings because they offer so many great insights – often practical ones that we can use in daily life. I once asked RAW what kind of philosopher he thought he was. He said, “I’m not a philosopher, I’m more of a speculator. I make speculations about reality.” He wanted to downplay his role, out of humility I suspect, but he wanted to be taken seriously as well as critically. He says again and again in his books that you should absorb what he writes but you should think for yourself, and make your own decisions about “what it all means.”
We are, I suspect, as interested in the guy for models and discoveries he may have championed, as for the structure he gave to those models and discoveries. How to think about those models, as he elucidates in his many books, was his great gift. We refer to his writings as an acknowledgement of the wonderful usefulness of his work. Ironically, shedding light onto knowledge is the actual definition of a guru.
– Rasa, June 23, 2021